Kentucky Derby Workouts
by Tim Clauss
Another Fine Churchill Morning
So this morning, the cat once again beat the alarm clock. If you want to get up at 5:30 to see the horses train, I've got a cat named Daisy who is better than anything else at convincing you to get out of bed. Unlike the last time, I dallied a little more at home, draining one huge cup of coffee before heading out. I figured, hey, they worked Event of the Year at 8:40 last time, so I've got plenty of time. So I went to the Churchill site to see if they had any listing of barn and stall numbers of the other Derby hopefuls. They didn't have any information, and I didn't make it to Churchill until about 6:30 am.
Once more a cursory wave at the gates, and I was in. All around was the pre-dawn bustle of the backside. Unfortunately, this morning, it wasn't quite as merry due to the fact that it was about 40 degrees with a light drizzle and brisk winds. When the weather is like this, people get down to business, and stop messing around. If you were at the Derby last year, this morning was much like that afternoon, except about 5 degrees colder.
EVENT OF THE YEARI headed straight for Event of the Year's stall to find out when he was going to work. That's when I saw Popeye standing outside his stall getting the washdown, and a larger throng of reporters surrounding Jerry Hollendorfer. Damn it, I was late. I had missed seeing his work (or at least as much as you could see between the drizzle and the dark.) As I came up, Jeannie Rees was asking Jerry Hollendorfer questions. From those I can give you this much information on the work. Donna Barton was up, he went a mile and handled the wet (but not completely sloppy) track well. Donna gave Jerry exactly the kind of work that he was looking for, and Event of the Year was very professional taking all of Donna's guidance immediately and without any fuss. I found out later from Jay Warhol that he had gone the mile in 1:37 and 4 and galloped out in 1:50. I don't have the splits, and like I said, I didn't see the work, so I can't give you a good description of how he went. From what everyone said, it will probably be labeled a breeze once again.
Event of the Year has two more works scheduled: One next Thursday, and one blow out on the Wednesday before the Derby. Jerry wasn't sure how far he'd go next Thursday, but indicated that it would probably be shorter than today. Then it shounds like the final work will probably be about 4 furlongs, and from the way they've been talking about it, I'd be looking for something in the :46 range for that final time. In my opinion, it looks like they wanted to put some good distance works into Popeye to essentially stimulate the additional muscle he might have built by running an additional prep race. Now they've got that in, and they'll be looking to stimulate his speed from here.
When asked about his history at Churchill, Jerry Hollendorfer was all smiles. Except for Fleet Affair, he's won every race he's ever run here. Jennie Rees asked him about his status in Northern Calfornia where Jerry has had only 3 horses go off at more than 10-1 odds all year long. His explination was two fold. First, folks know that when he sends a horse to the track, they go with the intention to win. He doesn't use races as a means of training like so many others who are "getting their horses ready" for another race. Also, he often has Russell Baze up on his mounts, and Russell has an excellent record in Northern California. Jeannie mentioned that he hasn't ridden a horse in No. Cal at over 10-1 odds all year long. Jerry credits him with a lot of his success. They first teamed up about 12 years ago, and you couldn't ask for a better regular jockey. Jerry called Russell and "All American type of guy." He's a hard worker with no bad habits. He has a wife and kids and goes home at night to them rather than out on the town. Baze will work 3 to 4 horses in a morning and never complain about it.
Jerry also went on to talk about how he got together with Mr. Mabee. After winning the Oaks with Pike's Place Dancer, Mr. Mabee gave him a call and sent him some horses. Hollendorfer had trained a few head for Mr. Mabee almost 15 years ago, but then hadn't had another until about 2 1/2 years ago. When Mr. Mabee was first with Jerry, he wasn't doing so well, he had about 5 years when he first started that he only had about 5 to 10 horses in training, and almost never won. Then in 1986, he started getting lucky and things turned around for him. Now that he's made it to the Derby, he's not letting it get to him too much, because, as he put it, if you don't get too overwhelmed with the good times, then you don't get really down when you have some bad times. There were plenty of other great quotes from Jerry H., but I fear this section is running long. Look for Jeannie Rees' article in the Courier-Journal, I'm sure that she will do her usual great job of presenting a picture of Jerry Hollendorfer.
Event of the Year's cool down went very normally. He was even calm when they gave him his alcohol rub down, an event that made him jump after his last work. They checked his legs and seemed to be happy with all that they found. They put some loose bandages on his front legs and started walking him around the barn before putting him up. I knew I would be back here, but all the other journalists were leaving, and I decided I should probably keep my eye on them to find out where the action was. There were a few more out today, several more print journalists, and what looked like an ABC advance crew were wandering around as well.
FAVORITE TRICKThe surface of the track this morning was wet, but not nearly as sloppy as it looked on television yesterday. Surprisingly, it didn't look as if it had been rolled recently, so there was no real sign of standing water. Instead it looked like it should be labeled wet fast. A surprise considering we've had something like 2 inches of rain in the past couple of days. Churchill has a very nice bottom on it when it is wet, so horses usually will get over it a little better, because the track is not quite as tiring.
I wasn't dissappointed when I made my way up to the viewing stand. (Well maybe a little, it was raining harder, and there is no cover when you're right on the track.) Heading to the track was the Horse of the Year himself. Favorite Trick was out for a morning gallop. Even Bob Baffert was up to watch the Trick. He came onto the track with very little fanfare, and got ready to gallop. Favorite Trick is another dark brown horse with black socks (It seems to be the choice in color this year.) He has white right front and left rear hooves.
FT galloped about a mile and a half. The walked him around the front side to start the exercise there. He wasn't really going the first time around and was under a moderate hold from his exercise rider. I think it was due to the fact that he was being held back, but he really didn't seem to be getting over the surface very well. His motion was pretty choppy, and he didn't look like he was striding out at the gallop very well. The next time around, however, you could see more of that powerful stride that made him Horse of the Year. The rider was working much harder this time, and Favorite Trick was rank. He wanted to run. When the rider pulled him up about 2/3 the way down the back stretch, he snapped his head sharply to the right. This was not the place that he likes to quit running. It took a little to slow him back down to a walk, but then he was led off by Mott on horseback very quietly.
The first thing you notice about Favorite Trick is the size of his front shoulders. He really has a very prominent whithers with the muscles just rippling all the way down through a fairly deep chest. He is a medium sized horse with legs a little longer than average. His body length balance from front to rear is good, but when you look at his backline, his whithers are approximately 2 inches higher than his rump. This is a by-product of those prominent shoulders, but also indicates he doesn't have as much muscle on his hind. What muscle he does have on his rump is well cut, however, his muscle on his front legs is disproportionate to his back legs. His neck looks to be carried a little lower than you would like, but that might be a visual deception of the strong shoulders. He is over his knees nicely in the front and rear, and his knees are about equidistant from the ground. His legs seem to be a little light in the bone and hooves are smaller than average, so he looks slightly fragile. His chest is of average width, but quite deep, so there is room for lungs that are larger than average. His head is good sized, and fairly wide, so he has a larger wind intake than average. I wasn't able to get a good look at his legs from the front and the rear to see how he stands over then, but his leg action from front to rear is nice and straight.
My impression of Favorite Trick's stride is that it isn't as smooth as some, he seems to rise up on his front legs when he takes a stride. I think this is due to the fact that he has more muscle power on the forelegs than most, so he is really pulling with his fore rather than pushing so much with his rear. You obviously can't fault his running style as it has served him well up until now, but it makes some sense as to potential distance limitations. The hind muscles are stronger than the front, and have a greater endurance. Favorite Trick's explosiveness seems to come from those strong shoulders.
CHILITOAfter Favorite Trick came off the track, everybody sort of scattered. A few of the reporters chased after Bob Baffert who had headed back to his barn, and others went back over to Jerry Hollendorfer to get some more quotes about his morning work. I headed that way, and decided to check in on Chilito who is stabled in Barn 41 across from EOTY. As I walked up, Chilito was just having his saddle removed. That just goes to show you how observant your intrepid reporters are, a Derby contender had just been on the track, but we ignored him to watch Favorite Trick. I asked about his exercise, and was told that he had galloped 1 5/8 miles. He had been nice and fresh this morning after they had given him the day before off. Chilto very quietly circled the barn about 10 times. (I've always wondered if horses don't find walking the shedrow incredibly tedious.) They led him out to be washed down and I was able to get a good look at the horse that made Comic Strip look so bad in Florida.
Chilito is a stout horse who is so brown he looks almost black. He's a little smaller than average, probably standing about 5' 5" at his whithers. His legs are shortish compared to his body length, and his body length balance is to the rear of center. His most outstanding feature is the muscles on his hind. He has the look of a sprinter with the sheer size of his rump. As a result his backline favors the rear with the point of his hip being slightly taller than his whithers. When viewed from the side, you notice that his front legs are set back on his body a bit further than you would like. He has a nicely muscled chest which is fairly deep, but not very wide. His neck is short and wide, with an average head. Overall, I would say that he has a slightly better than average air intake and capacity. He is slightly forward of his front knees, but there didn't seem to be any unusual structures there. He is in on his front knees, with the left front looking like it could eventually be a problem. His hocks all around are too long and upright, and they lead to smaller than average hooves. The rear leg structure is unremarkable except that he is slightly out over his hocks. This is not as much of an issue as it would be if it was on his front legs. Overall, Chilito has a speed horse's butt and build, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him make use of that build to sit close to the front or in front in the Derby. He doesn't have the spectacular long legs that you would expect to see in a classics winner. However, Thunder Gulch looked like a light framed turf horse, so I can't say that one body type is better than another when it comes to the Derby.
HANUMAN HIGHWAYChilito's wipe down was uneventful, and he returned to circling the barn. I wonder if he was at all miffed that there were still camera crews watching Event of the Year eat some hay, but there was only some guy with a notebook following his movements. His trainers were glad because it was so much easier to get their work done. As Chilito was finishing off, further down his barn, Hanuman Highway was getting ready for his morning exercise. He is stabled on the same side of barn 41 as Chilito, just on the opposite end.
I must admit, this is a horse that intrigues me. He has a very classic stamina turf breeding crossed with a not so proven dirt classics line. His broodmare sire was none other than Riva Ridge who's star was quickly eclipsed by his stablemate. His broodmare side his interesting mix of speed including Nijinsky, Turn To and Heliopolis. His sire side has some wonderful stamina influences including his Grand Sire Lyphard (who is a major turf influence) and Sir Ivor.
One good look at Hanuman Highway, and you can see those influences. He is a light brown horse with black socks. He is slightly shorter than average, and perhaps a bit longer. He has a smallish head and flat back line with the whithers not so prominently displayed. His chest is very wide, but not as deep as some, but still indicates some good lung capacity, though his intake looks smaller than average. He is balanced front to rear. He still has traces of his winter coat, and doesn't look like he is completely on the muscle as some of the other horses here, meaning his muscles aren't quite as defined. He is a little light on his rear end, but looks to have plenty of space to bulk up some. The one real turfer influence that is obvious is his short front cannon bones. As a result his front knees are well below parallel with his back ones. He really doesn't have the front leg length to reach out and grab a lot of ground, nor does he really lift his hooves that far above the racing surface. Other than that, there is nothing all that remarkable about his leg structures. Hanuman Highway's rear legs pivot out slightly as he reaches forward, but then swing in a straight line backward. This is a conformation fault, but not really something to worry about because his leg action does not pinwheel.
Hanuman Highway caught the interest of some of the print reporters as he headed for the track. The TV guys were off with Bob Baffert, but the print folks tend to be handicappers themselves, so they were trying to figure out what to think about one of the two horses to ever finish in front of Favorite Trick. HH headed to the track for a Mile and Half gallop very calmly. The walk was uneventful, but just after he hit the track, things started stirring up because here came Baffert with Indian Charlie. More on Chuck in a moment. HH ran his gallop in a workmanlike fashion. He was under a light hold from his rider as they came around the first time, but he wasn't getting into the bit all that strongly. He had a nice fluid stride but unlike Event of the Year, he looks like he has to work at it. It may be the result of his body lines, but he just doesn't really reach out and suck the ground up. I've now had a good look at him, and I'm still not sure what he's capable of. He has a turfers build and background, but he made a heck of a move in Arkansas. Hmmm......
INDIAN CHARLIEAs I mentioned. Just after Hanuman Highway made it to the track, here came Bob Baffert leading his pride and joy, Indian Charlie, to the track for a mile and a half gallop. First thing I have to say is WOW. Sure I haven't seen many of the other contenders, but I would bet that Indian Chuck is the biggest horse in the field. He is slightly taller than Event of the Year, and boy oh boy is he wide. Indian Charlie is a solid mass of muscle topped with a deep chestnut coat with four black socks. He came to the track with no wraps on, and obviously ready to run. He was on his toes going on to the track. Then as he came around the first time, he was under a major hold from his exercise rider who nearly had his head pinned to his chest trying to keep him at a gallop. Indian Charlie was very rank. He was not enjoying only galloping, and I suspect that if he had his way, he would have been shooting for the bullets this morning. The second time around he wasn't under nearly as much of a hold, but you could see that he was still fighting with his jock. He didn't get stopped until the end of the backstretch, and when he did he wasn't happy. He danced all the way back along the outside rail, and when Baffert tried to put the lead shank on him as he came off the track, Indian Charlie wasn't having any of it. He reared away from Bob, obviously pissed at his coach who hadn't let him practice at full force.
I have a hard time classifying Indian Charlie's stride because he was so rank. He really wasn't going smoothly at all because he was so concerned with his jock. As a result, his stride was very choppy, and he really wasn't using his long legs to reach out and get some ground. Now, I don't have a complete conformation report on Chuck because I was late for work as it was, and I couldn't wait around for them to unsaddle and wash him down to get a full look. I have no excuse other than my real job, but I will do better next time.
All I can tell you for now is that he is a very tall horse with what looks like a nice back line. Both his whithers and rump are fairly equal height. The muscle on the rump is the most impressive thing. When you look at Indian Charlie from behind, the muscle on the sides of his hips bulge like an Olympic speed skater's thighs. His shoulders are likewise muscled resulting in a good muscle balance, and there is no winter fat left on this horse. His legs are long, with equal knees and a very straight rear leg package. He has a very wide chest, though it is only about average depth. He has a large neck with a wide head. All in all, an above average wind intake and capacity. Also, he has a very sturdy, wide bone structure in his legs. The result, a horse that looks like he means business. He is built to run, and what was obvious from this morning is that he likes to do it. My question is, if he was that upset by not being allowed to really work, what kind of reaction is he going to have to the screaming masses in the infield Derby Day.
Before this morning, I considered Indian Charlie a toss out because I'm not at all impressed with his cheap breeding. But after taking a look at his stature, I realized that the mating of two otherwise unremarkable lines may have very well produced something special. As more and more press come to the track before the Derby, you will hear Indian Charlie's name on everybody's lips because he just that amazing to look at. However, as an observer of Derbys past, I have two words for those looking to bet the biggest, best looking horse in the race. Holy Bull.
However, for those of you trying to throw out these lightly raced, undefeated horses, I have an overheard comment to relate to you. A couple of the trainers on the observation stand were talking and one asked the other what he thought about these horses coming to the Derby with only four starts. The other trainer's comment was that he thought it was the direction we were heading in. The increase in purses allows trainers to take as much time as they need with horses. Hell he said, a couple of years ago the Epsom Derby was won by a horse making his first start at 3. He had only raced twice at two and he beat 21 other horses over a mile and half in his first start of the year. I don't know if these two are capable of similarly impressive feats, but remember, the thoroughbred is a remarkable animal and will always astound you.
My Mouth Wide Open, in Louisville, KY